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Orioles' Zach Britton not as dominant in 2017, but still continuing historic save streak

TORONTO — Zach Britton is 5-for-5 on save opportunities this season and continues his climb up the all-time consecutive saves list, but the Orioles closer hasn't been as dominant as he was during his record-setting 2016 season.

Britton converted save chances on back-to-back nights to start the series in Toronto, closing out the game with the winning run on second base Thursday and he struck out the potential winning run at the plate Friday.

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"I just want everybody to know, you're seeing historic pitching by him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's hard to do. Just keep in mind, he's getting everybody's best shot. When hitters are able to go up there with house money, they have nothing to lose. Everybody expects them to fail, and to continue to get three outs before they score the amount of runs that have to, it's not easy."

Britton has allowed 13 base runners over seven relief innings this season, and has placed multiple runners on base in four of his six outings. On Friday, he allowed his first run since Aug. 24, ending a streak of 19 straight scoreless outings.

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"It kind of hits you," Showalter said. "Think about that standard you have to live up to. He doesn't have to. That's where the support of his peers [comes in]. Everybody in that clubhouse knows how hard it is to do what he's done, so it's pretty hard to match any level. I don't think anybody in our game's going to match what he did last year and continues to do this year."

A measure of how dominant Britton has been – the earned run he allowed on Friday was just his second since April 30, 2016. Britton pitched 41 1/3 innings over 43 appearances without an earned run before allowing one on Aug. 24 against the Washington Nationals.

"He's set a standard that I don't think you'll see in your lifetime," Showalter said. "It just won't happen. I tend to try to enjoy it and watch it and realize how lucky I and we are to have a seat to watch it instead of trying to critique it every night. It's hard to do. If the fans and people think they have higher expectations of him, they're not higher than Zach Britton. I can tell you that."

This season, opponents are getting to Britton more often, batting .385 against his heavy sinking fastball after hitting just .157 against the pitch last season.

"It's not easy to do what Brad [Brach] or Darren [O'Day] or Mychal [Givens] do, but that's a different inning," Showalter said. "If you don't think that's a different inning, you haven't been around that many major league games. He's going to have a potential save that he's not going to be able to execute and end up -- I don't call it a blown save; you can't blow something you don't have. You've got to earn it. We still like him."

Britton's save Friday gave him 54 straight converted save opportunities, which ties him for second place on the all-time consecutive saves list with Tom Gordon.

Eric Gagne's record of 84 consecutive saves is still in the distance, but Showalter made it clear Saturday that he believes Gagne's mark shouldn't count. Since retiring, Gagne has admitted to using human growth hormone during his career.

"Gagne doesn't count," Showalter said. "… So [really] Zach is tied for first, OK? Really, that doesn't have an asterisk next to it?"

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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